The Opioid Crisis: What is the Government Doing About It? Part 2 – Improvements with Data Reporting, Collection and Analysis
This blog series is devoted to better understanding the efforts our Federal government is undertaking to combat the opioid epidemic in America. Earlier this year, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a five-part strategy that will be utilized to combat the opioid epidemic. In part one of this series, we examined the first prong of HHS’ plan, which is focused on increasing availability to addiction treatment and recovery services. In the second part of this five-part series, the discussion will shift to improvements in public health data and reporting as a mechanism to develop targeted solutions and measure the results of those efforts.
In today’s health care environment, data is becoming increasingly important. Data is used to influence treatment decisions, monitor compliance with prescribed therapies, measure trends in prescribing patterns and dollars spent, shape communication strategies and more. In order for data to be effective however, it must be accurate, actionable and timely. This is the basis for the second part of HHS’ strategy. HHS has communicated that it will support efforts to produce public health data that is timelier and more specific. This includes, but isn’t limited to, reporting of drug overdose data by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In March of this year, the CDC published fourteen months (July 2016 through September 2017) of opioid overdose treatment data collected from emergency departments across the United States. The CDC also produces monthly interim drug overdose data, which allows for more of a real time look at the opioid crisis and a prompt assessment of the effectiveness of various opioid crisis measures. If something has been attempted but isn’t working, it’s better to know that earlier rather than later so that efforts can be redirected. In addition, it has been reported that the CDC has awarded millions of dollars in funding to forty-four states and the District of Columbia to support enhancements to data reporting.
More frequent, timelier reporting of opioid data is not the only enhancement HHS has made in this area. HHS is also innovating with different ways to view and dissect data. For example, the HHS Chief Technology Office (CTO) brought teams of data analysts together with computer scientists to review HHS data sets, in an unprecedented move to stimulate insights into the best methods to report source data. In addition, CMS has released an update to its Medicare opioid prescription mapping tool. This is a web-based tool that presents regional opioid prescribing patterns within the Medicare Part D population. Regional data from within the tool can be used to drive local solutions and monitor the effectiveness of those solutions. Finally, HHS is seeking to expand the type of opioid data available to the public. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality or AHRQ, which is a division of HHS, has created a forum where users can share information about opioid solutions they have utilized. AHRQ has also added 2017 data to its interactive query tool known as “Fast Stats,” including data from opioid-related inpatient admissions and emergency department utilization to its data set. Finally, AHRQ created an interactive map that displays trends for opioid-related hospitalizations, which can be broken down by state, county or region.